A bill seeking to regulate the use of Crown land in the Cayman Islands, including whether and how the land can be used for private profit, is due to come before lawmakers next week.
The Public Lands Bill, 2017, would create a five-member Public Lands Commission with the power to license and ticket vendors in public areas. The commission would also be allowed to apply to Grand Court to settle disputes over public land access, including right-of-way access.
Both the beach vendor issue and the public right-of-way disputes have been controversial over the past year, with the focus mainly on, but not limited to, heavily traveled areas along the Seven Mile Beach corridor.
According to a summary of the bill: “[It] gives the commission wide regulatory powers governing the use of, and activities on, public land.”
If the bill is approved, no one will be allowed to do business on public land, often referred to in Cayman as Crown land, unless they have been issued a valid “vendor’s license” under the terms of the legislation.
Currently, local law states that no one can do business on public land without the express permission of Cabinet.
The vendors operating on Seven Mile Public Beach have been involved in an ongoing squabble with the government over their unlicensed business ventures for the past several years. A fine issued to one of the vendors was tossed out of court last year, leading to a delay in enforcement against other vendors.
Residents of beach condos near Public Beach have complained for years about the renting of beach chairs, umbrellas, Jet Skis, banana boat rides and other items, as well as the sale of food and drink on the beach, which residents said is “destroying” the serenity of the area with a “carnival-type” atmosphere.
The proposed legislation sets out strict rules for dealing with unlicensed vendors. If vendors do not receive a license from the Public Lands Commission, they will be ticketed.
They can either pay the ticket, enter a not guilty plea to the public officer issuing the citation or attend Summary Court.
Any ticket for noncompliance would have to be paid with 28 days to avoid criminal proceedings, the bill states.
In the case of either a not guilty plea or attendance at Summary Court, a trial date for the matter would be fixed. Failure to appear in court will result in a warrant for the vendor’s arrest, according to the bill.
The five-member commission that would be created under the proposal would consist of three civil service appointees and two members of the public appointed by Cabinet. One of those individuals “shall have a background and knowledge of the islands’ heritage and culture,” the bill states.
The commission’s duty is to regulate the use of public land “in the public interest.” It is given a number of broad powers in order to do so, including:
- To protect the right of access to and use of public land by members of the public, including enforcement of rights of way over private land
- To respond to complaints about misuse of public land
- To issue permits and licenses for the use of, and activities on, public land
- To advise the ministry responsible for Crown lands on the enforcement of the legislation.
The bill states that at least one chief inspector will be hired to undertake enforcement efforts and that additional inspectors may be hired as the need arises. A secretarial position will be created to support the work of the commission, the bill states.
If Cabinet approves, the commission members can agree to additional regulations under the bill concerning the use of public land.
According to the legislation, those regulations can include “protecting public rights of way over private land” and specifying the “days and hours during which public land is open for public use.”
Section 14 of the bill enshrines the use of public land: “Public areas or public land are open for use by all members of the public without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, sexual orientation or physical or mental impairment, property, birth or other status.”
Certain public land already governed by public authorities can be exempted from the regulations by the commission, according to the bill.